Saturday, August 24, 2013

Peak oil is dead: long live peak oil!

Perhaps the news of the death of Peak Oil have been a bit exaggerated. Despite the tsunami of hype related to the new dreams of abundance, the concept of peak oil remains entrenched simply because it makes sense.

Some economists have been arguing for decades that depletion was not an urgent problem and sometimes that it wasn't a problem at all. Among them, Julian Simon attained worldwide fame for stating that mineral resources would last "billions of years" (or perhaps forever) on the basis of the price trends of five mineral commodities over a few decades. Subtle arguing that plays on our tendency of preferring good news; however it is not possible to completely dispel this simple nagging idea that when you are using something that can't be replaced, eventually you'll run out of it.

As witness of the penetration of the peak oil concept, you can give a look to the recent book by Vladimir Lopez Arismendi, "The End of the Oil Age" (which, unfortunately, I think exists only in Spanish for the time being). It is a review of everything we know about peak oil, seen in the correct sense, that is as the result of dynamic force that are created from the gradually declining EROEI of the source.

For Lopez-Arismendi, peak oil is something obvious, part of his world view. So much that he explores its consequences for his own country, Venezuela. In his opinion, Venezuelan oil resources could outlive the world peak of at least a few decades and give to the country a chance for investing into sustainable infrastructures and move smoothly into the post-oil world.

You see? Peak-thinking generates similar thoughts. After all, that's what most of us have been thinking: that the peak was not only a problem, but also an opportunity to take humankind into a cleaner and better world. It didn't happen: we couldn't imagine the rabid reaction of society. We couldn't think that humans would decide to sacrifice literally everything they have in order to squeeze out the last drops of combustible liquids out of an exhausted planet.

Can Venezuela do better than that? If history is a guide, I'd say no. But, the future always surprises us. So, who knows?


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)